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The Western Central Atlantic Fisheries Commission (WECAFC), at its third session in Havana, Cuba, in November 1980, identified aquaculture as one of the main priority areas for development of fisheries in the Caribbean region. Cognizant of the interest in aquaculture, UNDP/FAO fisheries projects in the region have been providing preliminary assistance in evaluating development potentials.

Two missions to examine aquaculture possibilities have been fielded by FAO since mid-1980. The first, organized by the UNDP/FAO Aquaculture Development and Coordination Programme (ADCP) in cooperation with the WECAFC component of the Interregional Development and Management of Fisheries in the Western Central Atlantic (WECAF), visited Antigua, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat and St. Lucia in June-July 1980.1 The second mission, financed by the UNDP/FAO Bahamas Fisheries Training and Development Project (BHA/78/001), made a study of aquaculture potentials in the Bahamas.2

The missions identified mariculture possibilities in most of the islands visited and potentials for expansion of freshwater aquaculture in Haiti and Jamaica. They concluded that a regional programme of research and development would be essential for the Caribbean. A regional approach would enable effective use of the scarce national and international resources available for aquaculture development and would help ensure that sound aquaculture programmes were established.

The ADCP mission recommended that a Working Group be convened to discuss and develop this idea further, especially to identify the role of regional cooperation among the smaller islands in aquaculture research, development and training. In implementation of this recommendation and following informal consultations with fishery agencies in the region, ADCP and WECAF jointly organized a meeting of a Working Group on the Development of Mariculture in the Smaller Islands of the Caribbean Region. It met in Freeport, Bahamas, for five days, from 12 to 16 October 1981. Representatives from ten countries of the region, the Caribbean Development Bank, the European Economic Community and non-governmental organizations sponsoring aquaculture development in the region, attended the meeting. A list of participants is given in Annex 1.

The Working Group convened on Monday, 12 October, in the Bahamas Princess Hotel, Freetown. Mr. R. W. Thompson, Director of Fisheries, welcomed the participants on behalf of the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries for the Commonwealth of the Bahamas (Annex 2). Dr. T. V. R. Pillay acted as the Chairman of the meeting and Mr. David Lintern and Mr. Ulf Wijkström as rapporteurs. The Working Group adopted an agenda, which is reproduced in Annex 3. Although initially the meeting was intended to cover only mariculture development, which is of special significance to the smaller islands, the scope of the meeting widened during discussions to include also brackish and fresh water aquaculture in the Caribbean region as a whole. This was specially reflected in the final recommendations and proposals for future action.

1 Aquaculture Development in the Caribbean, Report of a mission to Antigua, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat and St. Lucia, June-July 1980, ADCP/MR/81/13

2 The Feasibility of Aquaculture in the Bahamas. A report to the Fisheries Training and Development Project (BHA/78/001), Nassau, Bahamas, by John B. Glude, February 1981


The Working Group started by reviewing the ongoing aquaculture activities in the islands represented at the meeting. The reviews included information on ongoing public and private aquaculture projects, capabilities in aquaculture, needs, potential, and known government plans. They are summarized as follows:

2.1 Antigua

There has been a project for the culture of catfish and tilapia on the island, but it was not successful. Presently there are no ongoing activities and the country lacks experienced aquaculturists/mariculturists. Low rainfall seems to be a constraint to freshwater aquaculture, but opportunities for mariculture development seem to be good.

There are many sheltered bays and suitable adjacent land areas for aquafarms. Perhaps the best possibility would be the culture of juvenile snappers and groupers in cages for grow-out to market size. A demand exists for mariculture, particularly of high-quality fish, crustacea and sea moss, not only for local consumption but also for export. Marketing channels already exist for export.

2.2 Bahamas

In the Bahamas there is scope for the expansion of the fishing industry. Imports of fish are not very great. There is private and public sector interest in the possibility of shrimp culture and the Wallace Groves Foundation in Freeport is financing research into the culture of dolphin fish, Coryphaena spp. and conch at the University of Miami, U.S.A. The UNDP/FAO consultant who studied the feasibility of aquaculture in the Bahamas concluded that there are many possibilities for mariculture. He identified the most promising as the culture of marine shrimps, brine shrimps, seaweeds, dolphin fish (Coryphaena spp.) and queen conch (Strombus gigas). The first three were recommended for major development, since culture methods for dolphin fish and queen conch are still under development.

2.3 Barbados

There are no ongoing aquaculture activities in Barbados, but the Fisheries Department has plans to construct four ponds in the north of the island where there is clayey soil. One problem that may discourage culture of tilapia is that Barbadians prefer marine fish. Some private groups are interested in the culture of Macrobrachium rosenbergii. The campus of the University of the West Indies in Barbados hopes to carry out research into prawn culture.

2.4 Bermuda

Bermuda has a number of relatively small harbours and bays but there is strong competition for the use of these areas for tourism. At present, production of marine fish is around 500 tons per annum but consumption of fish is around 1 500 tons, so there is an obvious interest in increasing local production through other sources. The demersal fisheries are over-exploited The Department of Fisheries has recently taken delivery of a 15 m research vessel which will concentrate on ways of catching more of the pelagic species around the islands.

Whilst aquaculture is not being developed at present, it would certainly be attractive to cultivate snappers and groupers in cages since these species are selling for the equivalent of US$ 5.50–6.60/kg. A naturally occurring bivalve Arca zebra might also be suitable for cultivation. The general development policy may be to encourage the private sector to take up aquaculture with technical assistance provided by the Government.

2.5 British Virgin Islands

There are currently no aquaculture activities on the islands. On Anegada there are about 3 600 ha of flat land, including 800 ha of salt ponds and mangroves, which would seem to offer good possibilities for development. Mangrove oyster, Macrobrachium spp., and mullets, occur naturally in small numbers. Whilst the marine resources may be adequate to meet the present demand for fish, it is also believed that marine fisheries may be at a level where exploitation from wild stocks is approaching the maximum sustainable level. In addition, ciguatera fish poisoning is a problem in the area.

2.6 Cayman Islands

There are no aquaculture activities in the country at present, with the exception of a turtle farm. Although its commercial production has now been reduced as a result of the closing of the U.S. market, it continues with some basic research on turtles. Some of the other traditional buyers of turtle products still allow imports, but the prohibition of shipment of certain turtle products through the U.S.A., has created logistic problems.

There is not much fresh water available on the islands and the coast line is generally rather exposed. Such sheltered bays as do exist, are generally used for tourist development. There are considerable mangrove swamp areas where pond construction might be possible, though labour costs are high. Present fish production is about 30 tons per annum, very seasonal, and there are no cold storage facilities. Fish is imported, particularly to satisfy the tourist demand.

2.7 Grenada

The country is similar in physical characteristics to St. Lucia, but has more sheltered bays and brackishwater areas. The southeast part of the island might be suitable for mariculture. The Government is very keen to develop mariculture and there are plans to cultivate tilapia. Turtles are being over-fished. Some experimental work on conch culture is being carried out in Carriacou.

Fish production is estimated to be between 2 600 and 3 000 tons per annum. Significant amounts go to Martinique, possibly for re-exportation to France. Distribution within the island is a problem and people living inland do not have easy access to fresh fish.

2.8 Montserrat

Since the ADCP Mission visited Montserrat, an attempt has been made to develop tilapia culture. The Dominican Government donated fingerlings, which are being cultured in local reservoirs and ponds. A U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, stationed in Dominica, has been advising Montserrat.

Fish is imported; the preference being for marine species.

2.9 St. Lucia

There is a high demand for fish products and the Government places high priority on marine production. Imports of fish and fish products now exceed E.C.$ 2 million per annum. Some work is being carried out with tilapia and there is some interest on the part of farmers to produce tilapia and the Macrobrachium spp. that occur naturally on the island. Assistance so far has been given by Peace Corps volunteers who lack the expertise to advise on culture systems. The country needs direction and assistance in this sector. There is no consumer resistance to tilapia and, with some form of processing, they could probably be marketed in large quantities. Salted tilapia could possibly replace imported salted cod.

The International Development Research Centre, Vancouver, Canada (IDRC) has recently initiated a three-year sea moss project (Gracilaria spp.) on the southern part of the island. Dried sea moss has a very high demand in the region and commands a high price. There are a few sheltered bays with some possibility for constructing brackishwater ponds. There would be interest in the cultivation of marine shrimp, snapper, grouper, lobster and conch.

2.10 Turks and Caicos

Fishing is the country's main industry, with over 90 percent of the catches of lobster, conch and scale fish being exported. The Government would like to receive assistance in developing marine resources.

There are substantial Government-owned areas of salt ponds on Grand Turk and South Caicos. These amount in all to some 300 ha, with an average depth of around 0.6 m. It would seem that with a little expenditure they can be utilized for mariculture. Any production would be for export.


3.1 Groupers, Snappers and Dolphin Fish

Groupers, snappers and dolphin fish were identified as possible priority species for cage culture in the Caribbean. It was noted that the species, now used for cage culture in Hong Kong and Singapore, do not occur in the Caribbean. However, methods of culture followed in these countries, may be adaptable to the local species. While culture operations can be initiated using wild juveniles, the Working Group arrived at the conclusion that, in the long run, hatcheries for the cultured species would be essential in order to have a sustained commercial production. Groupers and dolphin fish have been bred in captivity on an experimental scale. The problem to date has been to achieve a survival of fry in numbers large enough to make hatchery production economically viable. However, it is felt that viable hatchery and grow-out technologies will be developed in the near future.

3.2 Tilapia

Some species of tilapia can be cultivated in brackish or sea water. In fact, T. mossambica was reported to stand as high a concentration of salt as 50 ppt, a concentration at which they are said not to reproduce. Culture can be carried out in cages or in brackishwater ponds.

It was pointed out that until recently tilapia was not very much liked by the consumers in the U.S.A. However, tilapia is now being accepted as food fish in the southern U.S.A., and the market is growing. Some monosex tilapia hybrids with appealing colours are now available for culture.

3.3 Mussels

The potential for mussel culture is not felt to be significant in the region as a whole; the reason being that coastal waters in general are not very rich in nutrients. Therefore, it was doubtful that large commercial bivalve culture farms could be established, unless the culture media were enriched through fertilization.

3.4 Mangrove Oyster

The mangrove oyster occurs in some parts of the Caribbean. The existing technologies for its culture can be divided into four types; tray culture, raft culture, long-line culture and stake culture. While the technology exists, the economic viability of the culture is uncertain. A recent pilot project on the Caribbean coast of Panama failed to demonstrate its economic feasibility. It is understood that the results obtained recently in Jamaica were also not very encouraging.

3.5 Conch

Culture of conch can be intensive, semi-intensive or extensive. Probably a semi-intensive system of conch culture from spawn to juvenile stage could be developed within the near future. Young conch, thus produced, can be used to seed suitable areas for grow-out.

3.6 Freshwater Shrimp

In countries where fresh and brackish waters are readily available, the culture of freshwater shrimps of the genus Macrobrachium could be considered. Though a number of Macrobrachium species are found in the Caribbean region, methods of culturing them have yet to be developed. However, the culture technology for the giant Malaysian prawn (M. rosenbergii), is well developed and commercial culture of this species is now being carried out in Hawaii and Thailand. This could easily be adapted to the conditions in the countries of the Caribbean region.

3.7 Brine Shrimp

There is an extensive market for brine shrimp eggs. The larvae hatched from these are widely used as larval feed for shrimps as well as aquarium fish. There is also a market for brine shrimp in the adult form. The technology of brine shrimp culture is not very complicated and it should be possible to establish such culture operations on the Caribbean islands. As the market for brine shrimp eggs is very competitive, the economic viability of local production has to be carefully evaluated.

3.8 Culture of Marine Shrimp

Mariculture facilities on land at present would seem to have a possibility of becoming economic only for marine shrimps. In the western hemisphere, culture technology is more developed for the two Pacific species, Penaeus vanamei and P. styloristris, than for the Caribbean species. However, it was pointed out that to date intensive shrimp culture has not proved to be a profitable activity in the region. Although the technology for culture does exist, further development work has to be carried out to make it economically attractive.

It was recognized by the Working Group that dependence on hatcheries not controlled by the shrimp farmer, could place him in a risky situation, especially if the hatchery were located in a foreign country. This would not mean that culture could not start by making use of imported post-larvae.

3.9 Turtle

While it was concluded that the technology for turtle culture is available, serious doubts were expressed concerning its economic viability. The only known turtle farm in the Caribbean is located in the Cayman Islands. When the farm did produce and sell commercially, the revenue was obtained from the sale of most parts of the turtle: meat, hide, shell and oil. Possibly small-scale turtle farming would be technically possible on the smaller islands. However, it would be difficult to organize the marketing of such things as hides, shells and oil if production volumes were small, and therefore small-scale turtle farming would probably be uneconomic.

3.10 Seaweeds

While seaweeds can be used in a number of ways, the main market is for food and industrial purposes. The Working Group did not come to any definite conclusions concerning the extent of seaweed culture possibilities. It was felt that the low productivity of waters might limit the possibilities of culture to bays which receive some run-off from land.


Based on the review of culture technologies and development potential in individual countries, the Working Group considered the prospects for the region as a whole. Its observations can be summarized as follows:

4.1 Need for Aquaculture

The general concensus was that adequate justification existed for attempting to develop aquaculture and that this would be true even where the marine resources are not fully utilized. The arguments advanced included:

4.2 Suitable Species and Culture Technologies

At the moment only a few culture systems are practised in the Caribbean area, mainly in the larger islands and on the mainland of South and Central America. The Working Group recognized that the environment and economies in the smaller islands are different from those prevailing in those areas. Therefore even this limited experience will not be applicable in the region as a whole. There is an obvious need for well organized adaptive research.

It was found likely that most of the species reviewed by the Working Group can be cultured in at least some parts of the Caribbean region and that several of them (conch, seaweeds, snappers, groupers, tilapia and mullet) can be cultured throughout the region. It was recognized, however, that adaptive research and training, as well as organization of extension services, will have to be undertaken for the development of commercial-scale activities. The Working Group noted that economics of development cannot be ignored, and agreed that there is little point in attempting a culture simply because the technologies exist.

Although it is generally considered better to culture species endemic to the environment, the Working Group noted that savings achieved by introducing exotic species, for which culture technologies already exist, might outweigh potential drawbacks of such introductions. However, the need for proper evaluations of possible environmental impacts before deciding on introductions, was stressed.

In the Caribbean region aquaculturists will encounter competition for space, feed ingredients, fresh water, qualified technical personnel and managers. This competition makes it likely that the culture systems eventually used might be more ‘intensive’ than what at first sight looks plausible, in view of the relative costs of labour and capital.

4.3 Demand for Aquatic Products and Supply of Factors of Production

Demand for fishery products is high in the Caribbean, much more than the local economies might lead one to believe. Both the tourist trade and markets in the U.S.A. may be able to absorb significant quantities. Although transport from some of the smaller Caribbean islands and local storage facilities might present bottlenecks, the present and likely future demand for fishery products in the region is a strong stimulus for development. This is likely to get stronger with time; as the catch levels in marine fisheries reach their maxima, income grows and transport and communication facilities improve.

The Working Group identified the following obstacles to a rapid development of aquaculture: lack of manpower experienced in aquaculture, shortage of land suitable for pond construction, shortage of fresh water in the smaller Caribbean islands, high rates of evaporation, lack of information on availability of ingredients for fish feeds, inadequacy of legal framework for development of aquaculture, and occurrence of tropical storms. For mariculture the low tidal range presents an additional constraint, as do the often low levels of nutrients in coastal waters.

However, it should be noted that development of most other natural resources of the Caribbean region would face very similar constraints. Technical development is the art of combining the factors of production in such a way that the product (in this case fish or other aquatic organisms), is produced to suit the consumer's preference and at a price that he can afford. There is no reason to believe that experienced and knowledgeable aquaculturists will not be able to do this also for the Caribbean area.

The Working Group recognized that while to the enthusiast, with little or no practical experience, technical development or adaptive research might seem uncomplicated, the fact of the matter is that the beginner is most likely not aware of the many problems that he might have to solve before an economically viable and socially acceptable technology has been developed. For example, it might appear that all that one has to do to develop cage culture is to place fish in cages, feed them and see how they grow, with the purpose of selecting for culture the fish that grow fastest. In practice, he will have to face many questions. Which of the possible feeds are nutritionally adequate and within a price range that the culturist can afford to pay? What are the diseases affecting the fish and how to control them? How to avoid pollution of the aquatic environment? How to prevent fouling (and reduction of circulation of water) in the cages.

4.4 Role of Public and Private Sectors

Possible participants in development activities were classed as public sector (Ministries of Fisheries, universities, national banks) and private sector (fishermen, farmers and entrepreneurs). It was agreed that the action to develop aquaculture would normally have to follow the logical sequence of:

  1. identification of target species;

  2. laboratory research and trials on culture of the target species;

  3. culture on a pilot-project scale;

  4. demonstration of culture technologies to interested parties; and

  5. commercial production of the target species.

In most islands and for most species, it was thought that the private sector would not normally participate in research and development. At the very best they would enter into step (iii): pilot projects. It might be too optimistic to expect fishermen or farmers to be interested before demonstration of the successful operation. As the private sector would not experiment and carry out pilot projects for most of the species and technologies considered by the Working Group (with the possible exception of shrimps), these development tasks would fall on the public sector. The identification of suitable species, experiments and pilot projects would depend on the availability of up-to-date information on present aquaculture activities and research.

The meeting was of the view that it is unlikely in most of the islands that the public sector would actually be able to undertake these activities by themselves. This explains, in part, the absence of any commercial-scale aquaculture activities at present. A regional mechanism was therefore considered essential.


The Working Group felt that identification of opportunities, experiments and pilot projects are not strictly location bound and could therefore form the core of a regional activity. Such activities, if carried out on a regional basis, would provide the place and facilities for training of aquaculturists at a high level. Hands-on experience could be provided for private culturists in the demonstration projects. The Working Group noted that any effort to develop aquaculture in the Caribbean would need multidisciplinary assistance.

After identifying the kinds of actions that should be taken on a regional basis, the Working Group considered the various ways in which such a regional effort could be organized. It discussed possibilities ranging from a network of pilot projects, research and training activities to the operation of a regional centre.

The final conclusion was that a Caribbean Regional Aquaculture Development Centre would best serve the needs of the region. The Centre should have the following functions:

  1. adapt existing technologies (proven outside the region) to meet the needs of the Caribbean region;

  2. develop new culture technologies appropriate for the region;

  3. train aquaculturists, aquaculture technicians and other personnel as required;

  4. carry out feasibility studies for investment projects; and

  5. collect and disseminate relevant aquaculture information, through participation in the global aquaculture information system being developed by ADCP.

It was agreed that the Regional Centre would cover fresh, brackish and marine aquaculture.

The Centre will need physical facilities, such as research and pilot farms, hatcheries, laboratories, classrooms, dormitories, offices, etc. Naturally, the site must be conveniently situated for communications, utilities and amenities. The availability of suitable staff and funding for the Centre's uninterrupted operations are other major requirements. The meeting took note of the interest of the Government of Bahamas in considering the Bahamas as the site for a regional centre; an interest contained in the opening statement of Mr. Thompson, Director of Fisheries, Bahamas.

The Working Group set up a 3-member Committee, consisting of Messrs. Glude, Lintern and Walters, to draft an outline project proposal for the establishment of a Caribbean Regional Aquaculture Development Centre. The contents of the draft outline prepared by the Committee were discussed by the Group and agreed to with certain modifications. The outline document appears in Annex 4.


The Working Group discussed in some detail the follow-up action to be taken. It requested that FAO, through ADCP, give wide distribution to the report of this meeting, sending copies to governments in the region, potential donors and financing institutions. Following this a preparatory mission should be mounted as soon as possible:

  1. to visit possible participating countries, particularly those not represented at the meeting, to complete the review of ongoing aquaculture activities and potentials and to ascertain the extent of government interest in the proposed programme, including hosting of the Centre;

  2. consult with interested regional organizations/agencies, on their possible financial and other support for the programme;

  3. to examine sites for the Centre and to make recommendations regarding its location; and

  4. to prepare a detailed project document for submission to potential donors and the governments of the region.

As ADCP and WECAF had already provided substantial inputs by mounting the 1980 mission and by organizing the meeting of the Working Group, it was felt that more direct participation and financial support of regional institutions/agencies should be sought for further activities. The Working Group recognized the need and desirability of joint efforts of agencies to implement a project of the type proposed. It specifically requested that ADCP send a copy of the report to the Caribbean Development Bank with a letter asking the Bank to co-finance the proposed preparatory mission.

An appropriate institutional framework would be required for the proposed Regional Centre and, whilst its nature would depend very much on how and where it was established, it was suggested that one alternative would be the establishment of a sub-committee of the WECAF Commission, similar to that established for the proposed project for the development of marine fisheries in the Lesser Antilles. Naturally, Caribbean countries should pursue possible aquaculture development activities as best as they can without waiting for the establishment of the proposed Regional Centre. A number of possibilities were discussed and detailed suggestions made for their implementation. Once the Regional Centre is established, it may be possible to provide some short-term technical assistance to interested countries in carrying out their projects.

Several countries represented in the Working Group participate in the WECAF Project. The Group wished to place on record its appreciation for the support to fisheries development that the Project has provided, and expressed the hope that the void created by its likely closure will at least partially be filled by the proposed regional project for aquaculture development.

In conclusion, the Working Group adopted the following resolution as an expression of its commitment to aquaculture development in the region:

  1. Although there has been little aquaculture development to date, great potential exists within the Caribbean region for the establishment of a significant aquaculture industry;

  2. experience in other parts of the world indicates that concentrated research, development and training efforts could result in the establishment of an aquaculture industry that could contribute significantly to:

    1. the provision of jobs and business opportunities;

    2. the establishment of self sufficiency in food production;

    3. the earnings of substantial amounts of foreign exchange.

  3. for the above reasons, the Working Group resolved that the development of aquaculture within the region should be given high priority by the governments, institutions and private sectors of the region and by international funding agencies.

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